Here is a travel guide to Chiang Mai, with our compliments. Please contact us if you would like information on flights, hotels, car rental or travel insurance.
Chiang Mai Guide
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city, and an excellent starting point for excursions into the northern territories. Its name means ‘new city’, even though Chiang Mai is much older than Bangkok, having been built in 1296 under the rule of King Mengrai. The city straddles the gap between urban and rural Thailand, and offers the best of both worlds in terms of attractions and activities for Thailand tourists.
While Chiang Mai has more than 300 ancient temples, including the one at Doi Suthep, which offer breathtaking views over the area, its popularity is largely due to the elephant treks in the surrounding countryside. Travellers can also use Chiang Mai as a launching pad for excursions to the Lisu Hill-Tribe, Bhubing Palace, Isaan province, and Chiang Rai. Thai cookery classes are also a popular tradition, and the city also has an extensive night market, with dozens of street vendors selling a variety of traditional Thai wares that can be obtained at very low prices if you have the patience to bargain for them.
Chiang Mai is small enough to get around on a bicycle, has several attractions, and offers excellent accommodation, although tourists are advised that it can be difficult to find a room in peak season, between December and March.
Chiang Mai is tourist-oriented, and it is therefore relatively easy to get around, with several transport options. Three-wheeled tuk tuks, also known as samlors, are usually the quickest means of transport, and fares should be negotiated before travelling. Songthaews are another novel (if slightly hair-raising) way to travel. Songthaews are small, usually red, pickup trucks with benches fitted along the side; they have no fixed route but pick up and drop off passengers like buses and need to be flagged down. Be sure to check the destination with the driver. The Chiang Mai bus service is very limited; catching a metered taxi can be difficult at times as well. Renting a motorbike is a popular option, and car rental agencies are also available, though traffic can be heavy, and it is advised to rather hire a car with a driver. Bicycles are another good way to explore Chiang Mai and can be hired in the old city, though one does have to watch out for drivers.
Chiang Mai is a magical wonderland for visitors to explore and with so many breathtaking natural and cultural attractions travellers will be hard-pressed to know where to begin. The best time of year for sightseeing in Chiang Mai is between November and May when the cooler weather allows for perfect days spent outdoors.
A must while on holiday in Chiang Mai is the Maesa Elephant Camp, where visitors can enjoy an elephant ride and even watch them play football or paint a picture. The Mae Sa Waterfall in the Soi Suithep-Pui National Park is a great place for a picnic and a swim, while the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center will teach visitors about the region, its culture, religion and its history. And if you’re into cultural activities, check out the Lisu Hill-Tribe display at the Hill-Tribe Research Institute Museum to learn about the lives of the hill-tribe people.
There are plenty of temples in Chiang Mai to visit too, such as Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which overlooks Chiang Mai from the slopes of Mount Suthep; and Wat Phra Singh, the city’s best-known temple which houses the Phra Singh statue, dating back to the 14th century.
Far more family friendly than Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a great place to take the kids while on holiday in Thailand. The national way of life of sanuk (fun) is enough to keep the kids on their toes. Couple that with the friendly, child-loving qualities of the Thais, and you’ve got a recipe for a fun-filled holiday with the family in Chiang Mai.
Take the kids to watch the animal shows in the Mae Sa Valley where monkeys ride tricycles and play basketball, hold a cobra at the Mae Se Snake Farm, enjoy the views from an elephant’s back at the Elephant Conservation Centre on the Chiang Mai-Lampang road, swim and play under a waterfalls in the Soi Suithep-Pui National Park, go fishing in a local pond, or visit Chiang Mai Zoo’s two giant pandas from China, Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui.
Be sure to make sure the kids have plenty of sunscreen on and kit them out with a sunhat as the temperatures can be searing. With all these attractions and more, children on holiday in Chiang Mai will be entertained from dawn to dusk.
Set nostalgically in a colonial house near the Ping River, Le Coq d’Or is both distinguished and ambient, and offers tremendous service. With imported beef, lamb and local fish prepared in French and Belgian styles on the menu, diners won’t leave unsatisfied. The foie gras or salmon tartare are popular as a starter, while the chateaubriand and the Norwegian salmon come highly recommended for mains. There is a good selection of wines to accompany the meal.
Address: 11 Soi 2 Koh Klang Rd | Telephone: (0)5 328 2024 | Website: www.lecoqdorchiangmai.com
The House is elegant and sophisticated, with large draped windows and delicate silk finishes. This restaurant offers a diverse menu of regional flavours accented by classical dishes and grilled delights. The imported steaks and lamb are delicious, as is the local seafood. These can only be followed by one or more of the sumptuous desserts… Dinner can be nicely wrapped up with a drink at the Moorish lounge bar outside.
Address: 199 Moon Muang Rd | Telephone: (0)5 341 9011 | Website: www.thehousethailand.com
This Thai garden restaurant serves authentic northern cuisine from an open kitchen, and lets diners take some of their recipes and spices home. Famous for fried insects and frogs, the menu also offers a superb khao sawy with egg noodles and crisp-fried chicken, a sweet and spicy combination with coconut undertones. Their sai ua (Chiang Mai sausage) is famous and the fried pork rinds are truly decadent.
Address: 45 Kotchasarn Rd | Telephone: (0)5 327 6947
Le Grand Lanna
Le Grand Lanna is fashioned on a Lanna nobleman’s home, constructed entirely of old teak on raised stilts. Aside from it’s comfortable dining hall with beautiful Lanna art, there is also sheltered terrace seating outside overlooking the tropical gardens, which are home to exotic birds and butterflies. Flaming torch lighting and traditional music set the scene beautifully for evening meals. Pomelo salad, khao sawy and gaeng hang lan (red pork curry) with sweet mango chutney are favourites on the menu, satisfyingly topped off by homemade lychee or yam ice-cream.
Address: 51/4 Chiang Mai-Sankampaeng Rd | Telephone: (0)5 388 8888
In Chiang Mai, La Gondola overlooks the tranquil Ping River and is known for its vast glass aviary collection and romantic balcony seating. In true Italian fashion, this restaurant is very lively and serves rather large portions of food. There is a broad menu offering Northern Italian cuisine, including an assortment of delicious pastas and mouth-watering steaks, as well as various specials.
Address: 201/6 Charoenrat Rd | Telephone: (0)5 330 6483
Shopping in Chiang Mai is an extremely rewarding experience! There is a vast array of goods available, most often at very good (if not dirt-cheap) prices. As one of the handicraft centres of Asia, Chiang Mai is the place to buy anything from silk, silver and ceramics to antiques and Buddhist art. DVDs, CDs and electronic equipment are also readily available, although sometimes of dubious origin.
The first stop has to be the Night Bazaar on Chang Klan road, with stalls and arcades offering all kinds of Northern Thai handicrafts including silk, cotton, wooden carvings, silver and saa (mulberry) paper. During the day, there are also some vendors around selling crafts and food. Another good market is held on Ratchadamnoen Road, in the old city. Near Chiang Mai, Bor Sang village also sells its famous colourful umbrellas.
In the centre of Chiang Mai there are numerous shops trading in fabric, shoes, antiques, jewellery and hill-tribe products. Gadgets, western-style clothes and multimedia goods are best stocked at the Kad Suan Kaew mall and Airport Plaza, while computer equipment can be found at the Panthip Plaza.
The airport is situated 2 miles (4km) from Chiang Mai.
Getting to the city
Taxis are available for travel to Chiang Mai, 100 Baht/15 minutes. A shared taxi will cost 40 Baht. Fares should be agreed in advance. The Airport does not allow public tricycle and pick-up cars to enter the airport area; those can be accessed outside the airport area. Many hotels arrange transport and public buses are only advised for serious budget travellers.
Tel: +66 (0)53 2702 2233.
Avis and Budget are represented at the airport, as well as some local car rental companies.
Facilities include a bank, bureaux de change, ATMs, bars, restaurants, shops, a tourist desk on the first floor, first aid on the second floor and a left luggage office. There are limited facilities for disabled travellers; those with special needs should contact their airline in advance.
***INFORMATION CORRECT AT THE TIME OF POSTING – MAY CHANGE WITHOUT NOTICE***
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